Story by Pfc. Matthew Mackintosh, 28th Public Affairs Detachment
The top rangers from across the Army gathered at Fort Benning, Georgia, to compete in the 37th annual Best Ranger Competition, from April 16-18, 2021.
The Best Ranger Competition consists of a series of physically grueling events such as swimming, ruck marching, and running long distances, along with various obstacle courses that best showcase the competence, physical and mental endurance, and competitive spirit, of the Army Ranger.
Thousands of miles away from the warmth of Hawaii, stands six rangers huddled around the starting line in the brisk Georgia air. The competing Light Fighters exchanged palm trees for pine, but their focus remained constant: to win. Surrounding them are 96 other rangers representing the best the Army has to offer. The morning is quiet and the intensity of what lies ahead rests juxtaposed to the stillness of the morning. It truly is the calm before the storm–an appropriate setting for the Tropic Lightning competitors.
Suddenly, the crowd erupts into an uproar of cheer, anticipating the commencement. Shortly following, Medal of Honor Recipient Sgt. Maj. Thomas Payne, fires a pistol in the air to begin. The competitors spring off the starting line into the first of many arduous tasks ahead of them, starting with a 10-mile run.
In total, there are 51 two-man teams competing, with three representing the 25th Infantry Division. Those rangers include 1st Lt. Corey Zinck and 1st Lt. Joseph Shroer, of team 10, both assigned to the 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 25th Inf. Div.; 1st Lt. Aaqib Syed and 1st Lt. Remington Ponce-Pore, of team nine, along with 1st Lt. Nathan Perry and 1st Lt. Harrison Rooney, of team 11, both teams assigned to the 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 25th Inf. Div.
“I’m proud to have represented the 25th Infantry Division at the Best Ranger [Competition],” said Zinck. “The experience I’ve had in Hawaii and with the 25th ID has been pretty phenomenal with the leaders and the support…To serve as the face of the 25th ID, even if it’s just for the weekend, is a pretty humbling experience.”
Not only does the BRC test the rangers’ physical abilities but also their mental sharpness and tactical prowess. Day one includes a ten-mile run, swimming across Victory Pond twice, rucking movement between events, various weapon ranges and obstacle courses to include Malvesti, urban, and an ACFT-inspired course, to finish off with a 20-mile foot march that carries into the next morning.
The Tropic Lightning teams are very successful on day one. Team nine put the 25th Inf. Div. on the leaderboard early by finishing first in the opening 10-mile run while team 10 finished the ruck march second, moving them up the rankings as well.
When day one is complete, the 21 lowest ranking teams are not allowed to proceed to the next day of competition. All three 25th Inf. Div. teams made it to day two.
The morning of day two is much brighter than the first and is reflected in the attitude of the rangers. Despite the overwhelming presence of fatigue and soreness, the Light Fighters seem to overcome that with a healthy mindset– a true testament to their training beforehand.
“I think the biggest key to winning this competition is teamwork and mental resolve–being able to push myself and my teammate in every single event,” said Syed.
The first event of day two, called “Day Stakes”, consists of various stations that each test a different skill a ranger is expected to know and be proficient at. To include but not limited to: heavy weapon assembly, mortar assembly and demonstration, first aid application in a hostile environment, rappelling down and scaling up towers, tying military knots, etc. The latter part of day two is a stress shoot relay race that tests the rangers’ accuracy with the pistol, shotgun, M4 carbine, and the sniper rifle, while carrying around heavy objects between firing lanes.
Each of the Light Fighter teams give their maximum effort and compete well.
At the conclusion of day two, the 12 lowest ranking teams are cut from the competition, leaving the remaining 16 of the original 51 teams left to compete.
Despite team 11’s valiant effort and total dedication, they did not progress to the final day of competition. Team 11 left the competition ranked as number 24 in the Army, an honorable placing amongst the Army’s best, while team nine and 10 continued on
As the last 16 teams approached nearly 60 hours of continuous action, limited food, and seemingly unlimited tasks to complete, teams nine and 10 continue to represent 25th Inf. Div. well and professionally. Day three, the last day of competition, mostly took place at Victory Pond and in front of a live audience observing from the stands. The day was full of excitement and included teams helocasting from a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter, and a timed relay race that focused on balance, swimming, and comfortability with heights.
The relay race starts out with teams taking turns climbing to the top of a pole and on to a narrow wooden walkway, suspended high in the air over the pond. Once they get to the top, the competitors walk across and continue onto a rope, where they must balance their weight until reaching the ranger’s tab. After touching the ranger’s tab, they drop into the water, get out of the water, and sprint to the top of a tower where they then zipline back into the pond. Finally, both teammates sprint together across the finish line to stop the time.
Upon completing those events at Victory pond, the rangers complete the Darby Queen obstacle course and move on to the heavy weapons range where the teams are tested on their efficiency with a grenade launcher, a missile launcher, and a .50 caliber machine gun.
Finally, after days of exhausting physical activity, only two miles stood between the rangers and relief. Team nine completed the buddy run first, ending the competition as strong as they started it. The other teams followed shortly after.
As soon as those boots filled with calloused feet cross the finish line, you immediately notice the relief flushing the competitors’ faces. Some quickly wore their relief as a smile. For others, you can hardly distinguish their tears from the sweat that drenched their faces, but it was relief, just the same.
Family and loved ones greet their competitors near the finish line. Many rangers embraced their teammate who just endured one of the most excruciating competitions alongside them while other rangers embraced people from the crowd who traveled near and far to witness the event in person. There was an unbelievable surge of pride, camaraderie, and just pure elation in the air. It was an experience second to none.
“Crossing the finish line was a mix of satisfaction, pride, and relief,” said Ponce-Pore.
At that moment, the rankings were not a priority but a mere afterthought. Being able to compete in the Best Ranger Competition is a feat of its own, let alone finishing the competition. Two of the three 25th Inf. Div. teams were a part of those finalists that conquered the competition. Team nine placed at number 11, and team 10 placed at number 6 out of the original 51 teams.
“It was always our goal to finish and we wanted to place as well as we could,” said Ponce-Pore. “It was very satisfying to be able to place in the top 16 and actually finish through day three… to represent the division well. Given the chance, I think we’d both want to compete again.”